Jan 13, 2020
Reboot this! Franchises in need of a comeback (part 2)
(With special thanks again to Dave Szmigiel.)
If you missed the first part of this article, you can read it here. So where do we go from here? Perhaps TV could use another superhero show, but one with a more unique tone and setting. What we need is…
3. The Shadow
Back in the ’90s, Alec Baldwin had toyed with being an action star. While he decided he wanted to go elsewhere with his career…
…he nevertheless has had a very successful run as both a movie and TV actor. One of his more underrated movies is The Shadow, which didn’t exactly set the world on fire. If you want a more detailed look at how I feel about the movie, check out my Pulp Masterpieces article about it.
The Shadow got his start on radio, but he also enjoyed a very, very long and successful run in pulp magazines. There were well over three hundred Shadow stories written, most of them by Walter B. Gibson from the early ’30s to the late ’40s. The Shadow is still popular today, with Dynamite Comics publishing a series and that company and DC currently running a crossover, so the character has endured over the decades in a way few other characters gave. Which is why it’s so surprising to me that apparently no one has seriously tried to create a Shadow TV series. Batman ripped off 90% of the Shadow’s look and gimmick, which is essentially a multi-talented rich man who dresses in black, tools around in high-tech vehicles, is equipped with various gadgets to help him in his battle against crime, terrifies criminals with a supernatural shtick, and is friends with the police commissioner of the major metropolis where he’s based.
Now you might be thinking “Tom, there are so many superhero shows on TV; can it really sustain another?” And that’s a valid point. Fox is going to be airing Gifted soon, and Inhumans and Black Lightning are both coming to television, and Netflix is prepping a fifth Marvel series with the Punisher as the lead (and don’t be surprised if Elektra gets her own show; for all we know, it’s already a done deal). Superhero shows are as seemingly prolific now as western shows were in the ’50s and ’60s. If a new superhero program wants to survive in this market, it has to have its own unique look and feel, and having a show taking place in the 1930s could set The Shadow apart from the crowd.
Speaking as someone who’s read two hundred and ninety of the more than three hundred novels, and has seen the Shadow appear repeatedly in comics over the past thirty years or so, there are many stories that could be adapted, or for modern screenwriters to be inspired by. Baldwin’s movie actually borrowed elements from all four Shiwan Khan stories, and I don’t see why modern writers couldn’t do the same, picking and choosing plots from several different sources. Matt Wagner’s The Shadow: Year One is an utterly amazing piece of work and would make wonderful groundwork for a first season.
On top of that, why not have guest appearances by other Pulp Era heroes, like the Spider, or Vengeance, Inc., or Doc Savage himself?
The Shadow’s tone could easily swing from grim and macabre to near-camp, depending on the opponent, be it a mobster out to take over New York’s underworld, or a voodoo master whose power may lay in the supernatural or advanced biochemistry, or a mad scientist with a death ray out to ransom the city for millions.
So who could play the Shadow? Only one man comes to mind:
Tom Hardy possesses a physical presence that can dominate a scene. The man was Bane, and he played brutal career criminal Michael Peterson in Bronson. As the Shadow, he would be menacing. And at the same time, Hardy can pull off the smooth charm of the Shadow’s alter ego, playboy Lamont Cranston. So if one super hero TV series might succeed, perhaps we could see another? If so, which one? For me there’s only one other that I’d like to see make a comeback…
4. The Greatest American Hero
Airing from ’81 to ’83, The Greatest American Hero was a TV series about a man who was given a costume by aliens that gave him super powers, and the FBI agent who exploited him. The pair lost the instruction book on how the suit works, and so every week the two would fight crime and pray to God that 1) Ralph Hinkley, the man in the suit didn’t get himself killed and 2) Ralph Hinkley, the man in the suit didn’t accidentally murder some poor bastard.
The show, by the way, was a comedy.
But seriously, The Greatest American Hero was a fun series with a likable cast. Connie Sellecca was good as Ralph’s love interest and the chemistry between William Katt and Robert Culp was awesome. Culp managed to successfully toe the line between being a manipulative bastard and a guy who genuinely wanted to do good, while Ralph came across as a basically decent guy who was not crazy about being a “superhero” but realized that with great power… well, you know the rest. It would have been interesting to see where the show would have gone had it run longer than a mere two seasons. What we do know is the aliens who gave Ralph the suit seemed to have altruistic motives, and that someone else had worn it before Ralph, someone with selfish intentions. Beyond that, who knew what else the producers had in mind? In any case, The Greatest American Hero might not be a show as iconic as, say, Batman ’66, but it still has its fans. And sometimes you see references to it pop up here and there.
In a potential reboot, we could delve into the mysteries hinted at in the original run. Perhaps some aliens are altruistic… but what if others aren’t so noble? What if there are factions, each one providing different people with suits, with each suit having its own power set? And how are the suits powered? Perhaps they run on “karmic energy”, in that the more selfless and heroic a person is, the more powerful the suit makes them, and perhaps even such altruism opens up new powers. Then we could look at the opposite end of the spectrum: What if aliens were giving suits to unscrupulous individuals whose evil was magnified by these alien artifacts, much like in The Mask?
What if a suit gets shared by several people? What if the suit’s abilities change based on the person wearing it, where each person’s personality and talents are expressed via the suit? What if there are multiple suits?
One thing that annoyed me regarding the original series was that Ralph would walk around without a mask. Look at William Katt. Go on, just look at him:
Curly blonde-haired white guy. He really, really stands out. Yes, I understand how a mask would have made that costume look even sillier, but at the same time I don’t see how the bad guys couldn’t just start looking for a blonde guy with a perm. Perhaps with the new series, the costume somehow disguises the identity of the wearer, making them look like someone else? At least then the actor involved wouldn’t have to hide his (or her) face.
So the question is, who would be ideally suited to play Ralph Hinkley? Only one man comes to mind:
Tom Hardy can easily play a fundamentally decent if unremarkable man who, when called upon to be more than just a working class schlub rises to the occasion, and who can be heroic but still be grounded in reality as well.
But wait! Who can we get to play FBI agent Bill Maxwell? Of course, there’s only one man for the role:
Tom Hardy can easily skirt the line between unscrupulous manipulator and likable rogue, as a man whose principles were largely crushed by the weight of bureaucracy and years of watching criminals get away with murder, but who now sees the potential to do good and advance his stalled career.
We’re not done yet! Check out Part 3!